Russia To Try Block VPN Access In 2024, Lawmaker Claims

Russian internet © Pavel Ignatov Shutterstock 2012

Access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in Russia will be blocked from March 2024, Russian lawmaker claims

The Russian communications watchdog is planning on stopping access to tech that allows its citizens to access news and online content outside of Moscow’s propaganda controls.

Reuters reported that a Russian senator for the ruling United Russia party said on Tuesday that Roskomnadzor plans to block Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from March 1 next year.

Demand for VPN services in Russia soared after Moscow restricted access to Western social media following President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Kremlin Russia © Alexey Usov Shutterstock 2012

VPN access

The Russian government had passed a regulation in 2017 that banned the use of VPNs, but that did not stop Russian users from downloading them.

Now Reuters reported that Senator Artem Sheikin said an order from Roskomnadzor would come into force on March 1 that would block VPNs.

“From March 1, 2024, an order will come into force to block VPN services providing access to sites banned in Russia,” Sheikin was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA.

Reuters attempted to contact Roskomnadzor by phone and email with a request for comment, but with no success.

Sheikin said that it was particularly important to block access to Meta Platforms, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

“I would like to note that it is especially important to restrict citizens’ access to the products of Meta which is recognised as an extremist organisation,” Sheikin reportedly states.

He stressed this order also applies to those VPN services that give access, in particular, to Instagram, which is banned in Russia.

War crimes

Russia had opened a criminal case against Meta in March 2022, after the social networking giant said it would temporarily allow some “calls for violence” on Facebook and Instagram, in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This included calls for violence against Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as Russian soldiers invading the country.

It came amid when it emerged that the Russian military had carried out multiple instances of war crimes in Ukraine – stoking public anger around the world against Russia and President Putin.

After that policy change by Meta, Russia had banned Instagram.

It should be remembered that Roskomnadzor had already blocked Facebook in Russia, after the platform restricted access to Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik in the European Union.

WhatsApp, which had been the country’s most popular messaging platform, was blocked in Russia in March this year, alongside Snapchat, Discord, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, and Telegram.

Meta did not allow the calls for violence against Russia for long, and subsequently banned calls for death for heads of state, but it will still allow other ‘calls for violence’.

In the aftermath of Russia’s illegal invasion, Roskomnadzor also introduced other censorship measures, including a bill that President Vladimir Putin signed into law that made it impossible for news organisations to accurately report the news in or from Russia.

The Russian ‘fake news’ law forced major news organisations such as BBC and CNN to stop broadcasting from Russia. This is because calling the Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine an invasion can earn a person 15 years in prison.